Stealing garbage?

We spent several delightful hours at the British Museum today. It is an amazing treasure house full of the treasures dug up from the earth or salvaged from the garbage heaps of the non-Western world.

That last point is important. I heard someone at the museum claim that the British had “stolen” the archeological findings from the Middle East, Rome and Greece. The children, who heard this too, looked at me, shocked.

I hastened to explain to them that the Georgians, Victorians and Edwardians hadn’t stolen the things, they’d rescued them. Up until those Europeans, all of whom were steeped in the Bible and the classics, had gotten a gander of this stuff, the people within whose borders they lay had treated them like garbage. Had it not been for Westerners, they would have been further damaged, or lost or destroyed forever.

For the time being, it also makes sense to keep them in England or America or Germany or France, because we are currently more stable countries, and they have a better chance survival here than in Egypt or Iraq or Iran or in some other country at risk of violent convulsions.

Better to have a loving stranger care for valuable things than to consign them to an uncaring, self-destructive “true” owner.